Friday, September 23, 2011

Fresno Chinatown's Underground Tunnels

Fresno Chinatown's Underground  Tunnels:
A maze and sometimes amazing

By David Owens

Every big city has an active underground network and Fresno is no exception.   Over the past 20 years that I've wandered around Chinatown I have  met and talked to a number of older residents who grew up in Chinatown Their observations are the source for much of this report. As a child I explored the mythic Chinese tunnels in Boise, Idaho and later visited older cities of the West and learned a little about the underground architecture and networks created as cities develop.

Fresno's urban legends about underground criminals, brothels, opium dens  and stories of  ghosts wandering underground persist, especially among new comers to the area. Old timers just laugh. Usually it was not so exciting. But the truth is fascinating and there is a lot of  history underneath our feet.  Just about every good or bad vice you can imagine has happened at least once in Fresno's underground. Each basement and passage had a purpose, and after 135 years most are long forgotten.

 The first Chinese who came to the Fresno area came looking for Gold Mountain, mining the rivers and dry creeks for loose gold to take home to China. They came before the railroads and they had settlements along the "sinks of Dry Creek" when the railroad came through and named a new stop  "Fresno."

As the gold dreams played out, Chinese workers came to work on railroads and created other businesses such as laundries, saloons, stores and a small community grew. In Fresno the  community was on the West Side, the area west of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. The first buildings were made of wood. It was customary to dig cellars and basements to store things and to escape the dry heat of Fresno. Outside steps to them were built.  Sometimes passageways were dug between them in the hard-pan dirt of Fresno to afford easy access to the neighbors. Sometimes a business expanded and wanted easy passage, and sometimes they were built for a quick escape from assailants.

The Chinese were not embraced as citizens when they first arrived and there are many recorded instances of abusive treatment and false accusations. The ability to duck into a basement and come out in the alley was a matter of survival. 

Fresno's Chinatown before World War II sported the most vibrant nightlife in Fresno. If you wanted a night out on the town, a drink, a meal, a gamble, a dance or to meet a girl, you went to Chinatown.  Restaurants operated 24 hours a day, as did the gambling houses. China Alley, behind modern day Central Fish, was particularly active. There was a business doorway every 12 feet and often more businesses behind or below them. Numbers and lottery games were available at many establishments. This lasted until the late  1950s as "anti-suspender laws" and the redevelopment of the 1960s took hold and displaced long-time residents and businesses.

One of the persistent notions in Chinatown during its boom was that if someone was murdered in Chinatown, there would be no investigation. What happened in Chinatown stayed in Chinatown.  The mayor, city councilors, policemen and respectable business people could enjoy a little vice before going home on the other side of the tracks. Respectable North Fresno came to Chinatown to play on the West Side.

And yes, anything could and probably did happen underground and out of sight. Competing Tongs, Chinese labor organizations, often fought over work for their members and underground access points became ways to escape. Tong antagonisms existed in China and overflowed into the new communities. There are several newspaper reports about Tong conflicts in the 1920s in Chinatown, but even the newspaper reported very little on the activities of Chinatown.

Wood buildings of the 1800s slowly gave way to permanent brick buildings. The first water works in Fresno was in Chinatown and business flourished.   Many existing brick buildings were built 1905-1920. Records of the previous wood buildings is sketchy. Even more so for tents. Most burned or fell down.
 Brick buildings needed concrete foundations. The wood buildings had none. Concrete was poured, window wells formed, concrete steps replaced wooden steps. Wooden cellar hatches and sidewalks were replaced with concrete  and rectangles of glass (Sodium glass that turned purple in the sun) were embedded in the concrete over the stairways to let sunlight into the basements.  Over the years it was cheaper to throw out the purple glass in favor of cheap concrete  and the old steps and window sills were hidden. Electric lights replaced the advantage of filtered sunlight in the basements.

Every 20-30 years the City of Fresno would have to dig up sidewalks and pour new concrete. Old window sills often became sink holes in the sidewalks. The sills were bricked over in the basements and they were gone for good.  The same for many stairwells.  Some basements were even floored over as air conditioners replaced the need to hide from the heat.

The first building to get centralized air conditioning in the Fresno area was the  Peacock Department Store on F Street.  It still exists behind the old shoe shine shop of the owner has not hauled it away.   Amazingly, I was able to put it into service fora  while in the 1990s. It used a coil of cool water as part of the engineering and it actually wasted quite a bit of water.

What is left to see on the sidewalks are service elevators or access points, usually metal hatches in the sidewalk locked from underneath.. They can be opened to lower supplies into the basement. One of the basement freight elevators under the sidewalk may still be in place in front of the former Komoto's Dept. Store.  

Some of the basements were filled with dirt and rocks encapsulating stairwells and connecting passages only to be discovered decades later during excavations.  The city of Fresno put in storm sewers and underground Fresno was laced with tunnels and pipes for various utilities.  Drawings don't exist for the earliest water works created in Fresno's Chinatown, which adds to the surprises each time an area is excavated. Roads have been moved, widened, buildings have come and gone. All leaving traces below the surface.

Many of the older basements were constructed with red bricks and after 50 years or so the mortar started to sugar. The buildings would actually start to sink. Some tried to pour concrete on the inside to shore them up, but the better solution was to fill in the basement.  As you walk around Chinatown you can look for buildings that may have sunk, indicating that they once had dirt or brick-lined basements.

Old architectural drawings of the Security bank Building show a rather large tunnel all the way under the railroad tracks to Chinatown. Water, sewage and storm sewers have all bisected and altered the underground scene.

Some local businesses needed underground access for very practical reasons.. The Del Monte Packing House dug a diagonal tunnel South across G Street so they could run a conveyor belt for their operation underground rather than cart products above ground.

What is left to discover today is mostly remnants of unused basements with a few passages, sealed window sills, sealed stairways that look like passages.  And always the mysterious promise that maybe one of those sealed foundations covers one of the mysterious passages to an old gambling den or the escape route for the notorious characters of Chinatown.

 Video: For the past few years there has been a resurgence of talk of the mysterious tunnels and efforts have been made to find the signs of the life underground of the past.  This video some of the buildings in Chinatown and sheds some light on the walled up stairs, passages and window sills. The commentary is a bit exaggerated from my perspective, but fun to let the imagination run a bit.

 USA Today had a pretty good article:

Update October 24, 2013
The High Speed Rail Project is doing some archaeological digging in Chinatown before more construction begins.
Update November 21, 2013
Interview with Kathi Omachi and Jeremy Brownstein of Chinatown Revitlization, Inc. about Fresno Chinatown Tunnels:

- - -
Update February 18, 2014
High-Speed Rail Project instigates underground archaeology with digs in Chinatown. Adjoining basements doors below buildings acknowledged, no independent tunnels yet found.

For a collection of articles and posts about Fresno's Chinatown, see the Chinatown Fresno group

 David loves old buildings and once owned the D'Italia Hotel, The Oberti building, and The Peacock building in Fresno's Chinatown. He now haunts the Azteca Theater and spends too much time along Fagan and China Alleys. He is always looking for people with stories from Chinatown and especially the Azteca Theater.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lively scene at the Azteca Theater

Azteca Theater, 1:30 a.m., September, 2011
By David Owens

Every weekend finds an atmosphere of festivity at the Azteca Theater.  Friday and Saturday nights remind one of the vibrant life at the Azteca in the 1950's.  The whole country was exuberant, fresh from the ending of WWII, and exploding with activity.  Chinatown was buzzing 24-hours a day.
Now, from sundown until 2 a.m., that atmosphere continues for a  few festive weekend nights.

Next door the La Fiesta draws a crowd with live Spanish-language music and cold beers.    Under new management for about a year, there is a different atmosphere around the club. Out on the street are a mixture of people out for the night.

Fresh hot tacos! They keep the crowd gathered and satiated. Two women are busy serving up taco plates to order. People gather, talking, eating, waiting for friends. Some a waiting in hopes to meet there friends, some are hoping to make new friends. Taxis constantly come  and go, dropping fresh patrons, picking up a few spent ones. By car, bicycle and on foot, it is a fluid mix of people out on the town.

Along with the animated crowds, festive sounds fill the air. Sub-sonic bass lines from the live band at La Fiesta  underscore the K-Jewel Radio Classics from the Azteca ticket booth followed by a quadrasonic   Latin beat when you reach over for your taco and hear the Spanish music from the taco trailer.

It's been a long time since Chinatown had this much buzz in the air. Walk a block and see the crowd outside Chris's Meats serving up famous burritos, or the other direction to the Full Circle Brewery. A better vibe in Chinatown. Finally!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Azteca Theater as a photographer's model

By David Owens

It always fascinates me when I do an image search on Azteca Theater and see how many different people have made images of the Azteca Theater and it's decorations.

Here are a couple from Thomas Hawk,

Ticket taker Maria in her Tower District Mardi Gras beads and Chinese hat. Nice treatment.

And the very visible tower ... with some texture offered by pigeons, by Thomas Hawk,

I can feel that blazing noon sun in this shot.

Here is a photograph by Elliott Johnson, it has an montage effect!

 I can't tell what is reflection and what is montage, but for sure it is Maria in the ticket booth.

Here's a photograph by Richard George with super-real color:

And a documentary shot of the ticket booth by Mathew E. Cohen

Back when Maria had brown hair, she is a redhead now.
 Patrick George caught Maria with a shaved head back in her experimental days!i=985061620&k=xfWv6&lb=1&s=L

Titled Azteca Theater II
And another form Patrick George titled Azteca Theater III

An old lobby sign in the front of the theater.

Maria in a holiday mood from the owner;

And finally, in 2012, Maria as  redhead from Facebook by David Owens

Here is a night scene from 2011,

 Friday and Saturday nights are particularly active out on F Street.

Seen a cool shot of the Azteca Theater lately? Send us a link and we may add it here!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chinatown Temple for sale

Fresno Buddhist  Betsuin Temple - For sale or lease

Fresno Buddhist Temple
By David Owens

There are a few landmark buildings that define the character of Fresno's Chinatown:  the Bow On and Bing Kong , the Azteca Theater, The Basque Hotel, Di'Italia Hotel, Mexican Baptist Church, and most notably, The Fresno Buddhist  Betsuin Temple. It is definitely the most beautiful.

Since 1901 it has been the Buddhist  center in the San Joaquin Valley. The outdoor Obon Festival, was the largest outdoor event in downtown Fresno with  3,000 to 5,000 people participatiing.
The last Obon was held there in 2009.

Now, for more than a month,  the 11,000 sq ft building is listed for sale with Colliers. The Buddhist temple altar is still upstairs, but most likely will be removed and the building re purposed for offices.

The Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple
1340 Kern Street
Fresno, CA 93706-3320
(559) 442-4054

Why?  the members of the church have moved North and East and find a Clovis venue more in line with their needs for the foreseeable future. Sale of the building will help pay for the temple in the new facility.

The Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple belongs to the Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) denomination of Buddhism.  

Founded by Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), a Japanese priest who lived during the medieval Kamakura period of Japan.  The title "Shonin" is give to honor a Japanese priest. His statue stands in the front garden of the temple.

For more than 100 years the  Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple was the center for the Japanese Buddhism community in the Valley.

The last major Obon festival was held in Chinatown in 2009. Now it is held in North Clovis on Alluvial. It is not the same.

The Business Journal has a story about the building sale.

The Story of the Fresno Buddhist Temple, from their site

     "The history of the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple begins with the first "Howakai", or religious gathering, held in mid-November of 1899.  The Rev. Kakuryo Nishijima of the San Francisco Bukkyo Seinenkai conducted the service.  Later, through the efforts of Dr. Katsugoro Haida of San Francisco, a Bukkyo Seinenkai was established in Fresno as a branch of the San Francisco Young Men's Buddhist Association.  In January of 1900 it was officially recognized by the San Francisco headquarters and later went on to become the Fresno Hompa Hongwanji, the official title of the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple.

Members gathered for their meetings at 825 "F" Street.  The average age of the members then was only twenty-four years old.  In January of 1901 the first resident minister, the Rev. Fukyo Asaeda, was assigned from the mother temple Hompa Hongwanji of Kyoto, Japan, ant the first service was held on January 27, 1901.  Not long afterwards a three-story temple building was completed on April 8, 1902, it was dedicated.  Fifteen years later in January of 1917 the name was changed and the Fresno Buddhist Church was born. 

Unfortunately, in May of 1919, a fire destroyed the wooden building, leaving nothing but the adjacent dormitory standing. The members were disheartened but not defeated, soon gathered enough funds to replace the wooden structure with a concrete building.  This building was dedicated in November of 1920.  It is the same structure  that is currently standing at the 1340 Kern Street site.  

On November 4, 1936, the Fresno Buddhist Church was elevated to the status of "Betsuin" by the mother temple Hompa Hongwanji of Kyoto Japan. A "Betsuin" temple indicates direct branch status with the tmother temple and is a great honor.  This new status confers the title of "Rimban" to the head minister, who is said to serve as the representative of the "Abbot", or Monshu who is the religious head of the the denomination.  The Rev. Enryo Shigefuji was the first minister to be granted the title of Rimban of Fresno Buddhist Temple." 

Currently, Rev. Nobuo Miyaji is the Rimban.  He is assisted by Rev. Hidetaka Yoshii.  The membership consists of over 1,400 people stretching around the San Joaquin Valley.

Currently the group meets in North the
Fresno Buddhist Temple Dharma Center, 2720 E. Alluvial, Clovis 93611 Dharma Center.
The First Obon Festival in the new Clovis center was held in 2010 and you can visit their Facebook page to see pictures.

Obon Festival 2010 held in North Fresno.

It is sad when it is easier to raise money for Japanese tsunami victims than to preserve the Japanese Buddhist Temple in our own city.

A nice photo essay from The Fresno Bee: 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Talented Van Ness Village

 Since 1920, The Van Ness Village  has been a pocket of creativity in Fresno's Tower District. Founded as a commercial district between Home and Floradora Streets to service the State University, it is one of the oldest commercial districts. 
 I haven't met everyone around The Village, but everyone I've met seems to be a creative talent.  Here are just a few of the talents carrying  The Village forward.

David Hull - Deha Music - Mozart a la bass guitar -  700,000 views ...

Patrick Contreras - Purple Haze

 Contreras - Nare -  Cotillion

Nare - Contreras - Amor Distante

Omare Nare - El Rey

KP  - Acting Coach - KP Actors Gym -  developing talents

Joe Osejo - Photographer - Warning Signs-
City Arts Gallery - Joe Osejo

Brandey Steiner - director -The Broken Leg Stage - The Godling

Jasmin La Caris - Dance Studio

Finding Hope Now  - Worthy Fresno movie with some Van Ness talents

David Hull - Deha Music - grooving with us

I hope to see more of the talents of Van Ness Village!

Please point out some more Van Ness Village creatives and if they have a photo or video,  maybe I can add to the list!

- David Owens

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kitka and the Rogue World Ensemble in concert

Bringing worldly music to us -  Kitka and the Rogue World Ensemble

By David Owens

One of the joys of traveling is the chance to hear music of all flavors from distant places. If it wasn't so expensive I'd travel all the time! I do have the good fortune to spend quite a bit of time in Russia and be exposed to all kinds of folk and regional music. Sometimes impromptu concerts as in  the strains of voices rising from the subway from grandmothers singing songs from their childhood.

Or organized as on the "Day of Russian Birch Tree" to hear some traditional music from visiting folks from small villages.  And the music is often accompanied with some moves or folk dances.  The vocal tradition is rich in Russia and extends in influence all the way from Europe to China. Even the Orthodox Church only allows voices, no instruments to interrupt the voice of true faith. A concert in St. Issac's Cathedral is not to be forgotten.  And Russian folk music is just the beginning.

Fortunately, a few groups in the USA have traveled for us and brought a large selection of exotic from traditional and folk traditions from Eastern Europe for our enjoyment.
It is an ancient music that hearkens back to the earliest musical experiences that traveled our of Africa to Siberia and the whole of Europe and Asia.

It is an innate music very mother knows and is passed on for generations.  I can't help but feeling very spiritual when listening to this music and feel a few waves of goosebumps as the emotion of expression makes itself known.

There is a special opportunity to hear two wonderful groups, Kitka, of international reputation and a fledgling group rapidly rising in stature, the Rogue World Ensemble. And even a voice workshop the next day to continue the experience.

Getting to this concert is a lot easier than traveling to Eastern Europe and wandering for days with ears wide open. They are bringing this spirit right to us!

 More music videos  from Kitka

“Kitka’s music: Beautiful, primal women's songs steeped in ancient traditions and inspiration that ring fresh like Spring air after a long Winter.” - David Owens

Kitka vocal arts ensemble

Kitka and their beautiful Eastern European vocal music 

In their words, "Kitka is an American women's vocal arts ensemble inspired by traditional songs and vocal techniques from Eastern Europe. Dedicated to developing new audiences for music rooted in Balkan, Slavic, and Caucasian women's vocal traditions, Kitka also strives to expand the boundaries of folk song as a living and evolving expressive art form. "

Kitka's activities include an Oakland-based series of concerts and vocal workshops; regional, national, and international touring; programs in the schools; recording, publication, and broadcast projects; master artist residencies.

Kitka: Cradle Songs
Kitka has released eleven critically acclaimed recordings, nine on its own Diaphonica label.
Cradle Songs has been named "One of the Top Ten CDs of 2009" by NPR, and one of the "Most Memorable Internationally-Flavored CDs of 2009" by the Los Angeles Times. 

The  World of Eastern European Lullabies 
Kitka’s Cradle Songs
The mother, the cradle, the voice, and the universe. Melodies born on dry slopes and in deep boreal forests to the joys and sorrows of families from villages in the Russian Far North to Armenia and Greece. 

Rogue World Ensemble

Rogue World Ensemble

A fairly new group in the Rogue Valley, the Rogue World Ensemble is gaining a lot of fans as their  repertoire grows.  They have an infectious good spirit and a strong vocal harmony that would make them a great concert all by themselves.  

Rusalka - Rogue World Ensemble

Rogue World Ensemble celebrates the folk singing traditions of cultures from throughout the globe. The unique vocal qualities and intricate harmonies of the world’s many diverse cultures conveys the complexity of the human heart as uniquely expressed through music. 

"We believe that music is a universal language that transcends borders. Sharing the folk singing traditions of our world brings forth the potential for transformation, connection, and peace."

Rusalka is a women's vocal quartet related to the rogue World Ensemble  that celebrates the musical traditions of Eastern Europe, Israel, Russia and its neighbors.

To have Kitka and the Rogue World Ensemble together is a real treat!

Kitka and Rogue World Ensemble

In Concert April 8, 2011 in Ashland, OR

Friday, April 8, 20118pm
Tickets: $20/advance, $22/door, $10/teens 12-17,
children under 12 are free with paying adult.
Unitarian Fellowship, 4th and C Streets, Ashland



Friday, March 11, 2011

Finding Hope Now

By David Owens

Finding Hope Now is a new  movie creating quite a buzz. And it was  filmed in Fresno!
The movie,  from Skin Mead's screenplay, is based on Pastor Roger Minassian's book, "Gangs to Jobs" published in 2003.

It's a true story about how a local Pastor started a program to take gang kids off the streets of Fresno and prepare them for real jobs. It focuses on Santos, a 16-year-old  kid torn between joining a gang to survive and support his pregnant 14-year-old girlfriend -- and joining Reverend Minassian's program to change his life.

Writer Skin Mead  wrote the screenplay   and is producer
for the movie directed by  Jennifer Tadlock

Skin Mead's screenplay has already won a number of awards
Now the film is showing at film festivals and is sure to gain some notice.
Watch for wide distribution to come soon!

Movie Cast


Skin Mead (screenplay)

More Finding Hope Now  Staff and Cast on IMDB

The book

"Gangs to Jobs” tells how a program  helped transform the auto theft capital of California into a 2000 All-America City.
Inspired to action by the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the Rev. Roger Minassian began a journey from middle class pulpit to “the other America.”

What the author discovered led to the founding of Hope Now For Youth, an award-winning solution to gang crime and violence that since 1993 has placed nearly 1,700 gang members into jobs at 400 businesses, with an amazing 85% success and only 8% recidivism.

Helping us conquer fear most people have of gang members, the author allows the us to understand the causes of negative gang behavior. Minassian is instructive as he integrates stories of successful ex-gang members with practical steps citizens can follow in their own communities.

This book offers hope and a practical method of gang intervention. the book finishes explaining how this highly successful program was started and how it can be implemented elsewhere.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Belly Dancers on F Street, Fresno Chinatown

Rogue Festival in Full Swing

Rogue Festival Belly Dancers in Chinatown
Burlesque and belly dancers bring to life the Full Circle Brewing Company on F Street near the Azteca Theater in Fresno's Chinatown. Ninety-seven performances during the 10-day festivities which includes Art Hop and Mardi Gras.

The Full Circle Brewing Company is a great venue for live acts, almost like a  Rogue Festival Year-round.  Belly dancers and musicians make regular appearances on F Street.

- David Owens

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Twitter for Saxophone lovers

No Twitter for Bill Clinton on the Sax,
maybe he is following these guys ...!

Saxophones that Tweet

Fans of Saxophone music and sax players alike can keep up to the minute with their favorites on Twitter:

Twitter makes it easy to feel the crush of musical talent and get inspired.

Anyone have some more Tweeters to suggest for inspiration?

-David Owens

Friday, February 4, 2011

Azteca Theater Trailer - Infernal Vampires & Mummy

Azteca Theater Trailer
King of the Infernal Vampires and
The Mummy With Three Bad Faces
Two features in one!

Teatro Azteca trailer -
(King of the Infernal Vampires) and
(Triangulus The Mummy With Three Bad Faces).

Retro Mexican horror film trailer by  Michael S. Deak 

- David Owens 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Menza Credenza and Ghost Pedals

Ghost Phantom
Peeler and Ramsey
The Galloping Ghost
By David Owens

Back when I was supporting myself as a starving artist and university student I worked for a company called Ghost Pedal Company. It was owned by Bob Ramsey in Springfield, Oregon. I got on my 10-speed and fast-pedaled from Eugene down the busy Franklin Boulevard to the facility. I got to roll springs and machine metal parts and assemble  metal bass drum pedals.

Not just any pedals, but the fastest bass pedals in the world.  They were invented by Bob Ramsey back in WWII when he served on the USS Enterprise,  "The Gallopin' Ghost of Oahu," thus the future name of his drum pedal. Bob played drums and there was not a fast-acting bass pedal to his liking on the market. Most pedals were not smooth inaction and were constantly breaking. He figured out an opposing-spring movement and sturdy construction and patented it after the war. Ghost was a small company with less than a dozen people including Bob and his wife.
USS Enterprise, The Galloping Ghost

Word spread from drummer to drummer about the fast smooth Ghost pedal. Jazz drummers such as Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson got on board. When they toured near the area they would stop by and try out pedals and take a few away. Bob enjoyed meeting these extraordinary drummers.. Their autographed pictures and letters were on the office wall.

Bob figured out how to mount two beaters on his pedal. that meant a drummer could play two beats with one tap of the foot.   A fast drum roll on the bass drum was now possible.
That got the rock drummers excited. Some wanted four beaters on their pedals and played two pedals, one for each foot. The driving roar of thunder blasted from the bass drums equipped with Bob Ramsey's Ghost Drum Pedal.

Ludwig Ghost
It was a privilege to know Bob and his niche in the musical world.   Apparently Ludwig of Chicago was jealous of the smooth action and reputation of Bob's pedals and they introduced their own Speed King pedal with smaller opposing springs. Bob had to go to court to defend his patent against the industry gorillas. In the end Ludwig decided to buy out Bob and his patents and he retired. Roy Peeler, the plant manager moved to Chicago with the tools and I never worked on a Ghost Pedal again.

There was quite an art to torching spring steel and rolling springs on a  lathe. I like to think the Ghosts I worked on in the 70's were the best ever made. Steel, zinc and aluminum. The key to a quiet smooth action was a well-formed spring.

The Ludwig Ghost was an iconic bass drum pedal  manufactured by the Ludwig company from 1975 to  1981 based on the design by Bob Ramsey from1942.   The Ghost has become a much-sought-after pedal. They are still in use today and there is even an online Ghost Pedal museum by Billy Rhythm at

It's funny how things get connected in life. I was lead to Ghost Drum Pedals by interest in Buddy Rich, and that was driven by an interest in Don Menza, and that was driven by interest in jazz and horns ...

This story was begun to spread some admiration for Don Menza and especially his work with Buddy Rich. I have digressed to tell about a forgotten chapter in drummer history -- without regret!

Don Menza 2010
Menza Credenza! 
How about Don Menza? He is quite an amazing jazz player. The first time I heard the Channel One Suite I was in high school. Jazz greats were experimenting with many different rhythms and time signatures. 5 beats, 7 beats alternating 3/4 beats .. I listened as Walt Wilson, the high school jazz band instructor, told us we would learn this tune and take it on tour to Canada! That was scary and exciting at the same time. I studied with "Dr. John" Metcaf and Steve Wolf, two sax talents woodshedding with Gene Aitken's Lab Bands at LCC, the best jazz bands in the region. That was cool!

One of the my fondest musical memories.was emulating the amazing Saxophone player Don Menza. His credenza on Channel One Suite with the Buddy Rich Band is on of the great moments in contemporary  saxophone jazz and the peice was wildly popular among jazz educators. It is fondly called  "The Menza Credenza" by sax players. The long driving drum solos of Buddy Rich are legendary.

 There is nothing like having the band simmer down and open up the musical stage for your entrance... spine tingling and inspirational. Do or die, you are alive and it is your moment. We had a feedback-prone Shure PA sytem and it blasted my notes in auditoriums up and down the coast. In my memory -- somewhat romanticized over time -- we were good, very good, and I held my own with my version of the Menza Credenza. I have never heard a recording to temper or expand those memories, though I am sure one exists somewhere. Jazz is meant to be live and in the moment, then it is gone, but a field of notes and staccato drifting by. A memory riding on a breeze and though our soul. Mmm. Allow me my sweet memories.

What do you think? Listen to the Channel One Suite from Buddy Rich's 1968 album, "Mercy, Mercy!" There are many creative musical innovations in those years and their work remains inspirational.

Nice! Don't you love how Jazz players don't watch the clock and they play as long as they have something to say and stop when they are finished! No two-minute commercial radio tunes here!

I believe this is the recording with Paul Keen on the Bass Trombone playing a soli ... those low "blats" are a treat to hear. Paul is a  fine musician now teaching low brass in Michigan. Paul was also a musical director for Disney on Ice and later we worked together launching the Fresno Bee online, of all places!

Life does move in undulating waves and circles. I love it!

If you'd like to see what these guys looked like, here is another version in three parts from the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1984.
Buddy does some incredible drum work. Can you see a Ghost Drum Pedal?

Buddy Rich Channel One Suite part 1
Berlin Jazz Festival 1984

Buddy Rich Channel One Suite part 2
Berlin Jazz Festival 1984

Buddy Rich Channel One Suite part 3
Berlin Jazz Festival 1984

Keep those old Jazz vinyls! They keep going up in value!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lost Zombies Movie Social Network

Making a Zombie movie the social way ...

By David Owens

Lost Zombies is a zombie theme social network whose goal is to create a community generated zombie movie. Zombies working together for the common ungood!

Though the Zombies were evicted at the Azteca Theater they have been heard about town!

Members of Lost Zombies, have their own profile page, can submit photos and videos, as well as take part in chat discussions, and submit content to be used in the movie. Ooooh!

What kind of zombies do you believe in?

Call the Lost Zombies hotline!

Help write and photograph the movie ...
Everyone calls me Johnny so I will just go by that. I am an 18 year old kid from rural Michigan who just recently moved to Ireland. Unfortunately, after living in Dublin for 2 weeks all hell breaks loose. Mr. McCormic, a former IRA member, made teings interesting. Plus his small arsenal of shotguns, rifles, pistols, and pipe bombs means we can hold the inn for quite some time.
Right now there are seven of us in the inn.
There is myself, Mr.McKormik, His grandson Isaac who is 6'4 and full of muscle, Ms. Delaney, she is a year older than me but isn't handling this whole situation very well.

And, well, if we don't do something soon we'll perish.
They are out there... Moaning, foraging and looking for fresher meat...